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Museums in Istanbul, Turkey

Hagia Sophia, unquestionably one of the finest buildings of all time, was built by Constantine the Great and reconstructed by Justinian I in 537 AD. Now a museum, its name means Divine Wisdom. The immense dome soars 55 meters above the ground and its diameter spans 31 meters. One of the most important of all sites in Turkey, it has a treasure trove of fine Byzantine mosaics. First a church, then a mosque, it is now a museum. (Open every day except Monday).

After Hagia Sophia, the most important Byzantine monument in Istanbul is the Kariye Museum. This 11th-century church of "St. Savior" is unremarkable in its architecture, but inside the walls are decorated with superb 14th-century mosaics illustrating scenes from the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary. In the restored wooden houses in the Chora complex surrounding the church you can enjoy tea and coffee far removed from the city's hectic pace. There is also an excellent restaurant with garden dining within steps of the church. (Open every day except Wednesday).

Captivating Topkapi Palace was constructed by Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror in 1478 and was the official residence of the Ottoman Sultans for 380 years. This enormous complex was also the center of State Administration, but now the palace is famous for its superb collection of ceramics and jewels as well as for its famous Harem with its walls of exquisite tiles. The palace was replaced with the construction of Dolmabahce Palace by Sultan Abdilmecid in the mid 1800's. If you only visit one palace it must be Topkapi.

The Archeological Museums are found just inside the first court of the Topkapi Palace. Included among its treasures of antiquity are the celebrated Alexander Sarcophagus and the facade of the Temple to Athena from Assos. The Museum of the Ancient Orient displays artifacts from the Sumerian, Babylonian, Assyrian, and Hatti and Hittite civilizations. (Open every day except Monday).

Rumeli Hisar, on the Bosphorus was built by Mehmet the Conqueror in 1452 prior to his capture of Istanbul. This magnificent fortress was completed in only four months and is one of the most beautiful works of military architecture in the world. In the castle is an Open-Air Museum amphitheater that is the site for some events of the Istanbul Music Festival. (Open every day except Wednesdays).

Originally built in the 15th century as a kiosk, or pavilion, by Mehmet the Conqueror, the Cinili Kiosk, houses the Museum of Turkish Ceramics. It contains beautiful 16th-century specimens from Iznik and fine examples of Seljuk and Ottoman pottery and tiles. (Open every day except Monday).

Like the Ayasofya Museum, the St. Irene Museum was originally a church. It ranks, in fact, as the first church built in Istanbul. Constantine commissioned it in the fourth century and Justinian later had the church restored. The building reputedly stands on the site of a pre-Christian temple. (Open every day except Monday, but requires special permission for admission).

Not to be missed is the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art. The dark stone building that houses it was built in 1524 by the Grand Vizier to Suleyman the Magnificent, Ibrahim Pasa, as his residence. It is considered the most magnificent private residence ever built in the Ottoman Empire. Today it holds a superb collection of ceramics, metalwork, miniatures, calligraphy, textiles, and woodwork as well as some of the oldest carpets in the world. (Open every day except Monday).

Near Hagia Sophia is the sixth-century Byzantine cistern, the Yerebatan Sarnici. Three hundred and thirty-six massive Corinthian columns support the immense chamber's fine brick vaulting. (Open every day except Tuesday).

The Mosaic Museum preserves in situ exceptionally fine fifth and sixth-century mosaic pavements from the Grand Palace of the Byzantine emperors. (Open every day except Tuesday).

In the Military Museum the great field tents used by the Ottoman armies on campaigns are on display. Other exhibits include Ottoman weapons and the accoutrements of war. The Mehter Takimi (Ottoman military band) can be heard performing Ottoman martial music between 3:00 and 4:00 p.m. (Open every day except Monday and Tuesday).

Nearby, the grand imperial caiques used by the sultans to cross the Bosphorus are among the many other interesting exhibits of Ottoman naval history that can be seen at the Naval Museum located in the Besiktas district. (Open every day except Monday and Thursday).

Up the Bosphorus in the picturesque suburb of Buyukdere, the collections of the Sadberk Hanim Museum fill two charming wooden villas from the 19th century. Originally a private museum which displayed only Turkish decorative arts, it has recently been expanded for a new collection of archeological finds. (Open every day except Wednesday).










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